A few weeks ago, I was touring Ausable Chasm with my kids. Called the Grand Canyon of the East, which might be just a bit too strong, the chasm is nonetheless impressive with its waterfalls and 500’ cliffs. There is hiking, rafting and rope climbing for the adventurous, and for the nature watcher, there’s a little something special, though you might not think so at first.
The cliffs are craggy, and waterfalls of various sizes drip or stream down the sides. In some of these, small rock ledges can be found. While an experienced free climber might be able to climb up them, if they did, they’d find them already occupied, for this is the home of the Rock Dove.
Rock Doves are birds that you’re familiar with. In most major cities, they’re called simply “pigeons.” Though people enjoy feeding them, they’re often referred to as vermin, “flying rats,” “gutter birds” or even “flying ashtrays.” They leave droppings in large quantities, and are thought by some to spread disease.
Why do these birds invade our cities?
They were originally invited guests. Captured in the wild and domesticated over time, pigeons have lived with humans for thousands of years. They served as a food source, pets, communication carriers, and as decorations which explains all the fancy breeds out there. As with many domestic animals, some escaped and lived on their own.
In cities, pigeons feel at home… because we’ve perfectly duplicated their original homes. Pigeons are sea-side cliff dwellers from Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia. Our cities mimic these cliffs with their extreme variations in height and numerous places to roost.
At Ausable Chasm, some of these pigeons have taken up home in the chasm itself, which is the exact environment they’re suited for. Though they’re not native to North America, neither are humans if you take the case to an extreme.
It occurs to me that these birds would be celebrated if one saw them in the chasm and weren’t sure what they were. “My, look at those majestic birds up there! Look at the iridescent colors and the flaming eyes! This is truly a land of wondrous creatures.”
And it is. And so is the city. Because they’re common, we find it easy to be unimpressed by these birds, even though they can see UV light, navigate by magnetic fields and have several innovative ways to moderate body temperature.
You evolved on the plains of Africa. Pigeons evolved on the cliffs. In modern cities, we live together. You may not like pigeons or what they leave behind, but they have a fascinating heritage and might be worth a second look.